• Why not celebrate World Bicycle Day on June 3 by getting on your bike?
  • Cycling can make you stronger - both mentally and physically.
  • Cycling plays a key role in improving cities and fighting climate change.

Since their first appearance at the dawn of the 19th century, bicycles have proven to be a great way of getting about and staying healthy. Today, they are also a crucial part of the fight against climate change.

Across the world, cities are making themselves more cycle-friendly to cut emissions and improve air quality. But not all of the benefits of cycling can be measured by heart and pollution monitors.

The World Economic Forum’s 2020 report Guidelines for City Mobility called on city authorities and mobility partners to collaborate to repurpose car parking spaces for use by sustainable alternatives like cycle infrastructure and bicycle parking.

As we celebrate World Bicycle Day on June 3, here are five ways bikes are making the world a better place.

1. Human health

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization recommended cycling as a good way to exercise during lockdowns. Cycling also burns calories - roughly 300 an hour - and has been shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 40%.

Doctors say cycling lowers your blood pressure, increases the level of good cholesterol that carries away fat from your arteries. Some researchers have found evidence that cycling can also reduce harmful cholesterol too.

2. Air pollution

an infographic showing the benefits of shifting to cycling
The benefits of cycling include lower emissions and transport costs.
Image: itdp

Researchers at Oxford University in the UK found that emissions from cycling are up to 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car and about ten times lower than driving an electric one.

They say focusing on electric vehicles alone will not cut pollution because of the emissions generated by making them and the batteries that power them. The study found that people who used a bike for their daily travel had generated 84% less carbon emission than those who didn’t.

3. Mental wellbeing

It’s not just your physical health that can be improved by cycling. Doctors say cycling reduces stress by stimulating your body to produce endorphins, hormones that relieve stress and reduce pain. Endorphins also help fight depression.

Experts say that cycling promotes a state of mindfulness where you focus on the present rather than worrying about the cares of daily life, which helps reduce anxiety. Many people also enjoy the sense of achievement they get when they hit a self-imposed cycling goal.

4. Better cities

image of bikes in Amsterdam
Almost half of all commuters go by bike in Amsterdam. The Netherlands is home to 17 million people and 23 million bikes.
Image: Pixabay/RalfGervink

As cities become more cycle-friendly they also become safer and less stressful places to live. Creating safe spaces for cyclists and pedestrians encourages people to swap cars for bicycles for the majority of journeys which are less than 5km, experts say.

Across the world, city authorities used COVID-19 lockdowns as an opportunity to create new cycle lanes including in the Afghan city of Kandahar. France alone is spending $ 21.7 million to launch a “step forward in cycling culture” including free bike repairs and cycle training.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity's greatest achievements - and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

5. Fighting climate change

A 2015 study found that if just over a fifth of urban journeys now made by car were made by bike it would cut global urban transport emissions by 7% or 300 megatonnes of CO2 by 2050. A study in the UK found that cycling’s carbon footprint is just 21g of CO2 per kilometre.

That’s even less than walking or going by bus and 75% of the emissions come from growing the food to feed the cyclist. The rest are generated by manufacturing the bike - researchers calculated that building a 20kg Dutch commuter bike generates just 96kg of CO2.